Like many readers, historical romances were among the first romances I read, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized that among my favorite tropes of the subgenre (marriage of convenience, the wallflower or bluestocking) was another—the historical romantic suspense. But even more specifically: the historical spy.
Celeste Bradley is among the first romance authors I read as a teenager. Unlike many, I didn’t find romances through my mother’s shelves, but through the shelves at my local library, as I was supposed to be putting the books away. Among those first books, Bradley’s Royal Four series has always been one of my favorite. There was intrigue, suspense, love, arranged marriages, and so many other things that fulfilled my young heart.
One of Bradley’s heroes, Dane Caldwell, Lord Greenleigh has always been one of my favorite heroes. In Surrender to a Wicked Spy we meet Dane, not as he’s engaging in dangerous business in the name of the crown, but as he is fishing his future wife out of the Thames—and ends up being saved himself in the process. Dane is a big man—imagine Chris Hemsworth in period clothing (I know I do). He’s smart, capable, and crafty. Olivia, his new wife, is all of those things too—including big (I featured her in my Tall Heroines post).
The two trade barbs and hunt down the bad guy—but not before Olivia is kidnapped, shot, and, in the end, loved. What makes Bradley’s books such memorable reads is they are pretty perfectly balanced between the humor, romance, and suspense that makes historical spy romances so wonderful. Granted, Bradley herself said Surrender to a Wicked Spy is one of her wackiest books, so for those looking for more serious takes on the historical spy, look to the other books in the Royal Four, and Bradley also has The Liar’s Club up for offer. Ren and Calliope’s story in When She Said I Do, which bridges the Liar’s Club and the Wicked Worthingtons series, is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s a play on Beauty and the Beast, and is pretty masterful so give it a go!
Another master spy historical is Julia Quinn’s What Happens in London. The book opens with Olivia Bevelstoke spying on her neighbor, Sir Harry Valentine. Olivia made the mistake of believing the rumors that Sir Harry killed his fiancée, and she’s about to stumble upon Harry’s bigger secret—he translates documents for the War Office. Shenanigans ensue, especially when Olivia becomes linked with a foreign prince. Harry has to make sure Olivia doesn’t accidentally commit treason—and they may (come on, we all know they will) fall in love along the way.
For a more serious take on the historical spy, there’s Caroline Linden’s A View to a Kiss. While it is less flippant than my last two recommendations, Harry Sinclair (is there a rule that spies must be named Harry?) and Mariah still make this an enjoyable read. Mariah’s father has connections in high political circles and is one among suspected traitors. Harry has been assigned by the Home Office to investigate to claims, but forgets about the assignment when he meets Mariah. One of the interesting dynamic in historical espionage is that for every lord or duke who is a spy, there are also commoners in their ranks. It allows men of common birth to gain rank and privilege in the eyes of their peers, if not out in the real world. Harry and Mariah’s relationship has that added layer, with Harry being ranked below Mariah, and all the issues that are attached to it.
Shana Galen is another author with not one, but several spy books under her belt. Her Lord and Lady Spy books play on many of the spy movies we know and love—Love and Let Spy and True Spies, among them. Galen is of particular note because many of her heroines are not just sidekicks to help the spy-master heroes, but can be spies in their own right.
Meredith Duran is another author whose heroines hold their own with their spy heroes. In At Your Pleasure, in particular, Adrian Ferrers must uncover a traitor and in the process is sacrificing his chance at love and to restore his family to its former glory. Enter Lady Leonora (Nora) who is being held hostage by Adrian on her own estate. However, with At Your Pleasure, there’s always a small fear that love will soon become the weapon of choice.
Many Stephanie Laurens readers are more familiar with the Cynsters Family series than they are with The Bastion Club—a series I have enjoyed more on some occasions. While the Bastion Club’s mission statement centers more around the members being in control of their own marital fate, there are elements of suspense and intrigue in each of them. None more so than in the final book of the series, Mastered by Love, in which we get to know (finally) the enigmatic leader of The Bastion Club, Dalziel.
When secrets are the currency of choice among these spy masters (and mistresses) love can be hard to find, but I guarantee an HEA for all of these! What historical spy romances do you love to read? I mentioned a lot of male spies, can you think of female spies in historicals?
Jennifer Proffitt is a Midwest transplant to New York City. She spends most of her time reading and writing about romance, but you can follow her other adventures on Twitter @JennProffitt. She works for Heroes and Heartbreakers and Criminal Element.